Monday April 1 2013

If Catholic bishops can criticise government, why can’t priests criticise the church?

By Ladislaus K. Rwakafuuzi

When a bird perches off its nest without a word, it must only be too young. I will not fail to say something about Fr Anthony Musaala’s saga because I am neither too young to speak nor am I too daft to fathom the preponderance and momentousness of his dossier.

Fr Musaala has said that the Catholic Church should re-examine celibacy for its priests. Musaala has reasoned that many otherwise good priests fail in their vows of celibacy. What Musaala is raising here is not new. That debate is as old as the date the church decided on celibacy.

Celibacy was not a precept for priests in the beginnings of the church. The church later mooted celibacy as a means of serving God better without family distractions. The same church has the power to reverse itself on this precept if it sees that priests are no longer serving better when celibate. So Musaala has proposed that celibacy may be made optional. This is one arm of Musaala’s arguments.

The second arm is that the church should not merely watch when some of its priests who have failed to be celibate cause harm. Musaala is proposing that the church should strictly discipline the priests whose failure in celibacy causes harm to third parties, especially the children.

We must understand the gravity of harm caused to children who are born to priests who will never acknowledge them as their children. Article 34(1) of the Constitution of Uganda guarantees the right of every child to know its parents and to be cared for by them.

Children sired by priests are not acknowledged and therefore grow up with doubtful parentage. If such a child is asked to name its clan and ancestry, what does the child say? The sense of belonging steeped in our extended family eludes such a child.

Musaala is calling upon the church leadership to deal with philandering priests firmly and decisively with zero-tolerance. The church has not been treating the cases of errant priests, whose behaviour causes harm to third parties, with the seriousness it deserves.

Now Kampala Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga has decided to discipline Musaala for the offence of blaspheming the church. This is as surprising as it is strange. Who is scandalising the church, the errant priests or Musaala?

Inertia is the tendency of an object to stay in its state of motion when force is applied to it. The phenomenon of inertia is natural. Individuals and institutions tend to be more comfortable with staying in their usual known state rather than contemplate new ways of renewal.

If Pope Emeritus Benedict had thrown it to the bishops to debate whether he should resign due to his failing health, the bishops would give complicated theological reasons against the mooted resignation.

In the event Pope Emeritus Benedict did not wait for debate. He resigned! And the church did not collapse because the sun continued shining as always! The church should not stifle debate from persons who genuinely want a renewed church.

I have listened to and read about many VIP Catholics haranguing Musaala for expressing his views. Their view is that Musaala is undisciplined and should be chased out of the church.

Such people (they seem to represent a majority view) think they are defending the Catholic Church from detractors. That is fine, but Musaala is not against his church and has dedicated his life to serve it. He is arguing that the church cannot sustain the continued abuse by priests who fail in their vows of celibacy.

The church should confront the reality and find a solution instead of burying its head in the sand, pretending that the abuses are too small to affect the church.

Several times in the past, Archbishop Lwanga has been ostracised and harassed by State agents for speaking out against human rights abuses. The archbishop, in response, has told government: Ensowera ekwagala yekugwa kubbwa, meaning “it is for your love that the fly tends your wound”.

Thus, the archbishop calls upon the government to know that he has no hatred towards it whenever he speaks out. It is for the love of his government and his people that he criticises excesses of some state agents.

In a similar vein, why doesn’t the archbishop treat Musaala with love and understanding even when he thinks differently about celibacy? Musaala has only raised the issues for debate. The church, like any big institution, has multifaceted tendencies, including those who want women ordained priests. Shall we chase away every peripheral tendency?

Mr Rwakafuuzi is a human rights lawyer.
kalr@utlonline.co.ug

advertisement